Nos mueve la necesidad de conectarnos

Algún día cuando hayamos dominado los vientos, las olas, las mareas y la gravedad, aprenderemos a utilizar las energías del amor. Entonces por segunda vez en la historia del mundo, la humanidad habrá descubierto el fuego.  Teilhard de Chardin

A pesar de las palabras de odio terribles que se leen en los comentarios de los artículos de prensa y twitters, a pesar de lo candentes y hasta destructivos que se vuelven los debates políticos, a pesar de las múltiples guerras contemporáneas y de que muchos medios se inclinan a dar preferencia a historias de abusos, corrupción y disputas, a pesar de todo, veo a diario seres humanos embarcados como yo en una misma búsqueda… y la búsqueda es la del amor. Nos mueve una necesidad de conectarnos, de sabernos parte del todo. Si no somos conscientes de ello, al menos intuimos en lo más profundo de nuestro ser que somos seres sociales, que necesitamos vínculos; queremos ser amados, sentirnos necesitados y útiles, sabernos protegidos, apoyados, parte de una tribu. 

Tenemos acceso a abundante evidencia de que estamos condicionados para conectar con otros. 

Cuando somos rechazados por parte de un grupo social, cuando somos víctimas del bullying o cuando perdemos a un ser querido, sufrimos lo que se conoce como dolor social, lo que nos demuestra que las conexiones entre humanos no son opcionales o fortuitas, sino que existe una necesidad esencial dictada por razones adaptativas, de crear vínculos.

Los psicólogos Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary[2]analizaron las razones que prueban que tenemos una necesidad psicológica de pertenencia. Sentirnos conectados y formar vínculos afectivos son demandas adaptativas, dicen los autores. Estas necesidades se ponen de manifiesto desde la infancia cuando los bebés crean espontáneamente apegos. Sus hipótesis están basadas en varias observaciones: 

  • Una vez que una relación se establece, las personas son reacias a romperlas incluso cuando existe tensión, conflicto o incluso abuso. O sea, la gente prefiere evitar la separación, aunque haya que pagar un alto costo emocional. 
  • Cuando nos sentimos cercanos a otros, nuestros pensamientos se adaptan y empezamos a incluir aspectos del otro en nuestro concepto de nosotros mismos hasta llegar a sentir que nuestros destinos están entrelazados. 
  • Las relaciones cargan un peso emocional significativo: estamos felices cuando las cosas van bien; tendemos a sentirnos miserables, ansiosos, celosos, cuando hay conflicto.
  • Cuando no tenemos una relación cercana con otros, sufrimos. 
  • Las estadísticas nos muestran que quienes sostienen una relación de pareja se mantienen más saludables, menos estresados y tienen una expectativa de vida más larga. 
  • Las separaciones, incluso si son breves, producen malestar y tristeza.
  • La gente prefiere tener pocas, pero muy cercanas amistades y un número mayor de conocidos, siendo la calidad más importante que la cantidad. Esto es porque establecer un vínculo toma tiempo y requiere esfuerzo e inversión de energía. 
  • Cuando una relación se rompe, la gente tiende a buscar una nueva. 

Baumeister y Leary concluyen en su estudio que los seres humanos estamos motivados por una necesidad de pertenencia, esto es, por un fuerte deseo de formar y mantener duraderos vínculos interpersonales. 

Esta necesidad fue por primera vez estudiada y descrita por el psiquiatra John Bowlby quien formuló la teoría del apego[3](attachment theory) abriendo la puerta a una comprensión más profunda sobre el hecho de que somos animales sociales, pero también a entender que los primeros años de la vida de un niño son determinantes para su salud mental[4]. Estudiando niños que habían sido separados de sus padres durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial, Bowlby encontró que aquellos niños que habían sido criados en orfanatos presentaban retrasos cognitivos, problemas para regular emociones y dificultad para relacionarse con otras personas. 

En un bien divulgado estudio, Harry Harlow en los años 1950s diseñó “mamás” de alambre, fieltro y madera a través de las cuales se alimentaba a monos Rhesus recién nacidos. Después mantuvo a los animales en total aislamiento. El investigador concluyó que el contacto físico del crío con su madre, incluso con esa madre de alambre, era tan o más importante para su bienestar y desarrollo que la nutrición que recibía. En su laboratorio de Wisconsin, Harlow exploró la naturaleza del amor, tratando de entender cómo se formaban las relaciones entre infantes y sus madres. Probó que el amor a la madre era más de tipo emocional que fisiológico, relacionado con el cuidado que el crío recibe y que la capacidad para formar un vínculo estaba asociada con momentos críticos de la vida temprana, después de los cuales era difícil compensar por la pérdida inicial de seguridad emocional. 

Los autores e investigadores contemporáneos Daniel Siegel y Helen Fisher están hoy a la vanguardia del estudio sobre el apego (ver libros recomendados). Siegel también ha hecho énfasis en el hecho de que los niños que desarrollan un vínculo seguro con sus padres saben que pueden acudir a ellos cuando necesitan apoyo. Esto los capacita para empatizar con otros más tarde. 


[1]Maslow, A. (1954). Motivation and Personality (Motivación y Personalidad). Harper and Broth.

[2]Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995).The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation (La necesidad de pertenecer: Deseo de crear vínculos personas como una motivación humana fundamental).  Psychological Bulletin, 117(3), 497-529.

[3]En 1951, Sir John Bowlby escribió una monografía para la Organización Mundial de la salud titulada Maternal Care and Mental Health (Cuidados maternos y salud mental) donde propuso que los niños pequeños necesitaban la presencia cercana y constante de su madre (o sustituto) en la cual ambos encontraran satisfacción y gozo.

[4]Los términos vínculo y apego como traducción de attachmenta veces son intercambiables en español, pero el término apego es tal vez una mejor traducción en el sentido de inclinación hacia alguien o algo, mientras que el término vínculo se usaría para significar atadura. 

[5]No uso aquí el término antisocial como patología sino como opuesto al comportamiento prosocial. 

[6]Diener, E., Seligman, M. Very Happy People (Gente muy feliz) en https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11894851

[7]Fromm publicó The Art of Loving (El arte de amar) en 1956.

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Crianza en el amor para una nueva era

smiling girl holding gray rabbit

Además de la familia, la escuela es por supuesto uno de los sitios cruciales donde diversos factores sociales influyen sobre la maduración emocional del niño. Es también decisiva en el desarrollo de procesos cognitivos (atención, memoria, percepción y observación). Pero el impacto sobre el desarrollo emocional y social del niño es decisivo, tiene más peso en el futuro del niño, e incluso del planeta, que el aprendizaje de las matemáticas o la biología. Por eso considero esencial que las escuelas puedan crear entornos libres de ansiedad mientras también contribuyen a nutrir y satisfacer las necesidades emocionales del niño, fomentando su curiosidad, permitiendo la exploración del mundo y estimulando el dominio de sus habilidades y talentos.

El líder espiritual Osho dijo que las escuelas deberían enfocarse en enseñar el arte de vivir, el arte de morir y la meditación (además de algo de inglés, ciencias y matemáticas). También dijo:

“Una verdadera educación no te enseñará cómo competir. Te enseñará a cooperar. No te enseñará a luchar y llegar primero. Te enseñará a ser creativo, a amar, a ser feliz, sin comparar al niño con los otros. No te enseñará que puedes ser feliz solo cuando eres el primero”.

¿Estimulan las escuelas la empatía o enseñan a los niños a amar a los demás y a respetar el planeta? ¿A ser compasivo?

Los beneficios de aprender a amar se extienden más allá de uno mismo, y comienzan con el autoconocimiento y la autocompasión.

En el Arte de amar, el psicoanalista Erik Fromm habla sobre cómo, en el proceso de aprender a amar, como con cualquier otro arte, existen ciertos requisitos (disciplina, concentración, paciencia y dedicación) sin los cuales no se puede dominar el arte. ¿Qué entornos facilitan esa práctica?

¿Podríamos proporcionar a los niños un espacio seguro en la escuela donde ellos puedan examinar sus problemas relacionales y aprender a expresar sus sentimientos abiertamente? “Espacio seguro” es un término terapéutico que se refiere a un lugar y un momento en el que una persona puede sentirse cómoda y a salvo. Donde una persona puede expresarse libremente sin temor a ser juzgada, y obtener información, con la certeza de saberse escuchada y aceptada. Además, donde lo que se dice es confidencial.

Una vez creado un espacio seguro, es más fácil expresar y regular emociones. En sesiones de grupo, los estudiantes pueden poner sobre la mesa sus quejas o discutir los conflictos que existen entre ellos o entre ellos y sus maestros, y un buen facilitador les mostrará formas no confrontaciones de resolver conflictos.

La compasión se puede enseñar, y el amor se puede aprender. Y podemos ofrecer modelos de relaciones solidarias y enseñar principios de cooperación.

Es natural que los niños respondan con amor

Es importante invitar a los niños a observar las diferentes maneras en que otros experimentan el mundo para que su pensamiento deje de ser binario y sea más holístico. Ayudándoles a reflexionar sobre el impacto que sus acciones tienen en los demás, en el planeta y en sus cuerpos, les ayudamos a desarrollar consciencia de si mismos y de su conexión con el entorno.

Cuando un niño está pasando por un tiempo de confusión emocional, una de las reacciones más comunes de sus compañeros es alejarse (huir) porque no saben cómo manejar el estrés que provoca la situación. Estimular la empatía en los niños es uno de los objetivos clave de la disciplina inductiva (también llamada disciplina positiva). En este tipo de disciplina, las transgresiones sociales no son abordadas con castigo. Se le deja al niño experimentar las consecuencias naturales.

La mayoría de los educadores modernos son conscientes de que cuando se aplica un sistema de castigo y recompensa, si acaso se logra inhibir un comportamiento por medio del miedo pero cuando se castigan  las transgresiones sociales, se generan reacciones que van desde el resentimiento a el  aumento de comportamientos desafiantes.

En cambio, se puede inducir a un niño a sentir pena por la incomodidad que pudo haber causado en otro y ayudarlo a reflexionar sobre el efecto de sus acciones. Luego se puede sugerir una acción reparadora (abrazar, pedir perdón, invitar al otro a jugar) para que la vergüenza y la culpa se atenúen. El niño recordará estos comportamientos que eventualmente contribuirían a reforzar los circuitos neuronales en el cerebro que, la neurobiología nos cuenta, están alambrados para la empatía. La empatía contribuirá sin duda entonces a limitar la agresión y estimulará el comportamiento prosocial.

Parenting for a new era

smiling girl holding gray rabbit
Photo by Anastasiya Gepp on Pexels.com

Besides the family, the school is one of the most crucial social factors influencing the emotional maturation of the child; therefore, it’s also decisive in the development of cognitive processes (attention, memory, perception, and observation). But schools can also have a significant impact on the emotional and social development of the child. Therefore, they must aim at creating anxiety-free environments while contributing to nurturing and gratifying the emotional needs of the child, promoting curiosity, allowing exploration, and stimulating mastery of certain skills and talents.

The spiritual leader Osho said that schools should focus on teaching the art of living, the art of dying, and meditation (in addition to some English, science, and mathematics). He also said:

“A real education will not teach you how to compete; it will teach you to cooperate. It       will not teach you to fight and come first. It will teach you to be creative, to be loving, to be blissful, without any comparison with the other. It will not teach you that you can be happy only when you are the first.”

Do schools stimulate empathy or  teach children how to love others and respect the planet? To be self-compassionate?

The benefits of learning to love extend beyond oneself, and they begin with self-knowledge, and self-compassion.

In the Art of Loving, Fromm speaks about how, in the process of learning love, as with of any other art, certain requirements exist—discipline, concentration, patience, and dedication—without which the art can’t be mastered.

Could we provide children with a safe space where to examine their relational issues and learn to express their feelings openly? “Safe space” is a therapeutic term referring to a place and moment in which a person could feel comfortable and safe. Where they could express themselves freely and gain insight, knowing that they will be listened to and accepted, and that what is said is confidential.

Once a safe space is created, it becomes easier to express and regulate emotions. In group sessions the students can to put on the table grievances or conflicts existing between them or between them and their teachers, and this gives them the opportunity to learn mature ways of solving conflict.

Compassion can be taught, and love can be learned. And we can offer models of solidary relationships and teach principles of cooperation.

It is natural for children to respond lovingly. However, it’s important to invite them to look at the different ways in which others experience the world, helping them to reflect on the impact their actions have on others, on the planet, and on their bodies.

When a child is going through some emotional turmoil, one of the most common reactions from peers is to turn away (flee) because they don’t know how to handle the stress the situation elicits. Stimulating empathy in children is one of the key objectives of inductive discipline. In this type of discipline, social transgressions are not approached with punishment. Most modern educators are aware that punishment for social transgressions engenders reactions ranging from resentment to defiant behaviors. Instead, a child could be induced to feel sorry for the discomfort he might have caused and helped to reflect on the effect his actions had on another. Then a reparative action can be suggested—hugging, asking for forgiveness, inviting the other to play—so that shame and guilt are attenuated. These behaviors would be remembered and would eventually contribute to a reinforcement of the neural circuits for empathy. The newfound empathy will then contribute to the limiting of aggression and an increase in prosocial behavior.

May you be happy, may you be well

 

 

What brings you joy?

I love to walk in the evening and take pictures of the sunset.

Nature brings me joy.

Oh, the peace you can experience out there!

The magic moment when a sudden change in perspective takes you from “inside here” to “outside there.”

What was the most compassionate thing you experienced today?

Please share your thoughts…

Work hard on yourself

I was recently teaching a Reiki class to a very nice group of women…

baby beautiful blur child
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

But before I go on, I should tell you that the most rewarding aspect of my Reiki classes is the interaction, the closeness that happens between all of us. We usually start the class with an activity that would help create a safe space: one in which there is confidentiality, acceptance, respect and people take care of their own needs. By the end of a 12 hour class (Reiki I is intensive, I know) people have opened their hearts and have experienced what it is to be supported and connected.

So, this group of women… after each activity we sit and reflect on the experiences and make space for questions and answers. The subject of becoming a Reiki Master and teacher came up. Someone asked how to replicate, expand, multiply the kind of closeness, intimacy and support experienced during the day. I said, “What you do is you all become Reiki Masters and teachers and pass on this gift of Reiki to other people.” 

I’m not new to the hesitation most people experience about teaching others. We tend to doubt ourselves. Would others listen to us? Do we have the authority to teach others when we still feel “incomplete,” “flawed,” “in the process of becoming”? And I think the answer is Yes, yes and yes. We complete ourselves in the interaction with others. We build ideas as we speak and the inner knowledge comes out. We let our vulnerability be seen and trust the others, and we see our vulnerabilities as the place from which we can empathize with them. We become (whatever we want to become) thanks to the collective wisdom that inspires us, motivates us to move forward, opens our eyes to new experiences.

So, then the group wanted to discuss some more about the Reiki principles. One of the five principles is “Working hard on self” and it brought quite a few questions. No, we don’t want to be hard on ourselves, that’s not the idea.

There is the perfectionist kind of hard, I said. A person who will never feel enough and will judge others by the same measure. And then, there is the honest person kind of hard. I provided a personal example: I hate mediocrity and still I’ve come to recognize that sometimes I don’t try my best, because what I do seems good enough to many. So, I need to be true to myself. I think it’s easy to fall into what Edward de Bono called the “intelligence trap:” if we’re somewhat smart, we might be tempted to using our thinking to defend our positions (and we might have the ability to do it nicely), rather than further exploring ideas and subjects until we really have a deep knowledge of what we’re talking about. Once I recognize that I’m doing this, I have the obligation to “work hard” on getting out of the above mentioned trap, and conscientiously study and keep myself up to date on the topics I’ll be teaching, writing and discussing. So, the goal of “working hard” is not to be perfect, but to be honest: to be fully aware of our potential, our weaknesses, our flaws until we get to really know who we truly are. And we’re certainly not what we do nor what we achieve nor what we have.

We spoke about two kinds of doing: there is what I do in order to have (possessions, titles, position, recognition) and this kind of doing doesn’t really lead to satisfaction, fulfillment or joy.  And there is the doing that becomes the expression of my being and this doing is pure joy on itself.

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On Mothers, patriarchy and false expectations

When, many years ago, I read Funerales de la Mamá Grande by Nobel Prize García Márquez, the figure of the ‘Big Mama’ the “absolute sovereign of the Kingdom of Macondo” didn’t sound like a hyperbole to me. I had already lived in Colombian towns where mothers were idolized and motherhood overrated to extremes.

Idolization of the mother figure, presented as a glorification of the feminine, is rather an inheritance from patriarchal times. Overstretched images of female beauty or saintly motherhood, a strategy used to cover up oppression, has contributed to patriarchy burying women’s voices and dominating social action to the benefit of men and detriment of women.

The more I traveled and met people, the more I witnessed how among Hispanics, moms respond to the supermom myth by overdoing their maternal role. We don’t have to go very far to find the overprotective, the intrusive, the co-dependent or the abusive mothers. And maybe, because we were immersed in such culture, all of us bear at least traces of each of these. Mea culpa! I confess my sins.

Many Latino mothers’ lives revolve around their offspring, and their ‘care’ can become asphyxiating. Which explains why it’s not infrequent to find awfully dependent adult children in our culture.

We also often find mothers overwhelmed with guilt, blaming themselves for their children’s shortcomings, feeling pushed to behave up to impossible expectations about what motherhood ‘should’ be.

If we were to be totally truthful to ourselves, Mother’s Day could each year be the perfect timing to examine unfinished business with moms, assess our current relationship with them and even quit seeking the impossible ideal of a mother that only has existed in our minds.

‘Good-enough’ mothers

To help average moms overcome guilt and shame about not being perfect, English psychoanalyst and pediatrician Donald Winnicott coined the term “good-enough mothers” in 1953.

Those were the days when psychology research started to support earlier Freudian thoughts that interactions between mother and child during the early years were central to the development of the child’s inner world. Mothers, paralyzed with uncertainty about the extent to which their deficits could affect their brood, flooded pediatricians’ offices.

Providentially, psychology also discovered that it’s the frustrations stemming from mother’s impossibility to attend her child’s every need what challenges the child’s forcing him to adapt to reality.

So, in a way, what Winnicott was telling moms was: dare to err. Your children might even learn to appreciate those mistakes as opportunities to mature and grow!

I’ve seen mothers doing sacrifices that children should acknowledge and praise. Many mothers proffer unconditional love; their hearts healing from wounds caused by insensitive accusations or blaming by their offspring, made in a moment of rage.

No doubt. Exemplary women, who forgive faults that only their mother’s heart could forgive, also exist. And, yes, many moms are available when things go oops! for their children.

But there are also dark sides to this story.

‘Good children’ and ‘not good-enough’ mothers

Let’s take the times of the infamous Colombian narco Pablo Escobar, when sicarios justified horrible crimes as means to meet the terms of their ‘duties’ as good sons. They were determined to take their moms out of poverty. Sadly enough, many of these mothers gladly and gratefully or at least silently received dirty money not even asking where it came from, as if ignoring the truth would made the misdeeds right!

Studies showed that most of the above moms were awfully permissive. It’s difficult to believe that Pablo Escobar’s mother herself never thought of his son as a criminal.

History offers many cases of mothers who used their children for profit. Far from being ‘good enough’ mothers, these moms – maybe forced by poverty and lack of methods for birth control -exploited their children. This was common in the early days of industrialization, when parents gave up their 5-year-olds to sweatshops for survival. These children worked 16 hours in a row; tied with chains and whipped to force them work beyond their capacity.

Even to this day, millions of children are exploited or neglected and abused in the world.

Not all moms are created equal

It’s easy to see that motherhood is in no way the same for all moms. While some rave on their experience, others may have trouble bonding with their child.

Many women decide to hand on their child’s care on to another person so they can carry on with their careers. Some openly neglect their children out of lack of knowledge about their parental role, lack of energy, mental illness or deficient love. And there are even moms who consistently say and do terrible things to their children, scarring their lives forever.

But in all truth, we have all been marked in some way by our mother’s mistakes. Moms are human! They will never be up to our idealistic expectations.

The consequences of prizing maternity too highly

I wish that we could from an early age understand that mothers can’t (won’t) be perfect.

Myths about mothers that continue lingering in our society, on one hand promote adoration of mothers and on the other hand allow for all the blaming mothers take for the weaknesses and shortcoming of their offspring.

Another troublesome aspect of valuing maternity too high is that women who decide they won’t have children tend to be seen as unsuccessful by their peers. Pressure comes from their families and friends. The choice of not having children seems unbelievable in a world that thinks a woman finds realization in maternity.

Acknowledging natural need to learn in a knowledge-intensive world

By Silvia Casabianca

I have stubbornly differ from the idea that children need external motivation – to be rewarded, punished or pushed – in order for them to study and learn. Instead, I think, we should follow their lead and move our educational endeavors in the direction of the children’s interests. This – and not anxiety-eliciting strategies – would facilitate learning.

The late American author and educator John Holt said, “…the anxiety children feel at constantly being tested, their fear of failure, punishment, and disgrace, severely reduces their ability both to perceive and to remember, and drives them away from the material being studied into strategies for fooling teachers into thinking they know what they really don’t know.”

Observe youngsters while, for example, playing video games.

Or watch them learning all they want about their favorite singers or sports idols. Children easily develop on their own the necessary knowledge and skills to compete with each other without any adult’s “motivation.”

Sadly, the need to socialize, fit in a group and develop the necessary skills to fulfill their psychological needs of admiration and respect are manipulated by the market.

Education should recognize that we have a natural need to learn and we learn about the things that matter to us, because it’s a matter of survival.

More so nowadays.

Survival of the fittest

Darwin’s notion that only the fittest survive can be applied to everything that humans do. Babies learn to sit down, roll, stand up, talk and walk without anybody needing to prompt them. Processes, characteristics and behaviors that develop across childhood can be explained by a combination of biological forces (nature) and environmental conditions (nurture).

An inherited genetic code determines phenotype (physical appearance), while family, sociocultural factors, nutrition and physical activity influence development.

We learn best what we can. Nature endows us with certain talents and abilities that facilitate specific learning, and the educational system should be offering the opportunity for all to develop those gifts.

Our performance and creativity would greatly improve if we could feel comfortable and confident doing what we’re doing.

The world is becoming knowledge intensive

I agree with late management guru Peter Drucker who has said, “From now on, the key is knowledge. The world is becoming not labor intensive, not material intensive, not energy intensive, but knowledge intensive.”

But you instinctively know that. You urge your child to get a high school diploma and then attend college because you are confident that he or she will find better job opportunities if they have an education.

You also know that when you’re looking for a job, your personal value to any employer depends on your experience and training, in other words, on your knowledge.

But high-stake testing, that pushes students to devour and memorize content because college admission is contingent to SAT scores and grade point average (GPA) is not helping.

Are educators aware of the level of anxiety these tests create? Of the possible relationship between tests, fear of failure and aversion to school?

A child is by nature an explorer

Babies first explore the world by putting things within reach on their mouth. Then they crawl away and continue exploring by grabbing objects from the floor, they taste them, bang them, throw them trying to understand what they are about.

Infants learn to sit and stand up by a repetitive process of trial and error. Testing behaviors that give them –hopefully- what they want mark their interactions with people.

I believe we are to blame for spoiling the natural tendency of the child to explore the environment and learn from it.

We hush them down

With few exceptions, the three-year-old kid’s exciting whys from cute turn into a nuisance (‘cause we’re busy talking about “more important matters”) and we soon get tired of answering the endless stream of questions. We hush them down.

Then we go and nanny them with cartoons that start modulating their behavior (‘cause we’re busy doing “more important things”). And when they go to school, we basically tie them to the chair and demand focused attention.

Their particular interests are deemed a distraction in the class. We forget that all roads lead to Rome.

Curiosity could lead to learning opportunities

I once pictured a school where the kindergarten teacher would be wise enough to allow the child to run after the colorful butterfly strayed in the classroom.

Then the teacher could use the butterfly as a nice excuse to explain forms and colors, proportions, aerodynamics, gravity and symmetry (among other basic math and physics principles) in a natural and understandable way. And she could ask the children to make a drawing of the insect so that they could learn to express and represent the world in which they live.

But unfortunately our teachers are usually more concerned about complying with the school’s curriculum and methodologies that are mostly based on millenary scholastic theories. It’s not their fault; it’s a matter of survival for them too. In my experience innovative teachers who follow their instinct end up clashing with the system and losing their jobs.

Never before the ability to learn has been so important for people to survive in our increasingly complex, brain-based and technological economy. I don’t think that our society can be up to the challenge without seriously reforming education.